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July 2014

Leading Thoughts

Using Assessments in Leadership Development

By Doug Gray

Many managers and leaders use the wrong tools to measure their people. For example, a tape measure works well for measuring distance but not weight. Similarly, assessments may measure personality, interests, strengths, capacity, behaviors and even the likelihood that an employee will file a workers' compensation form at some point. More than 15,000 leadership assessments are available that are both valid and reliable. How do you use the best tools to measure your people?

Let's start by clarifying definitions.

  • Leaders rally others behind a vision of a better future. The core skills are public, optimistic and communicative.
  • Managers maximize the productivity of others. The core skills are private and coaching.

You act like a leader when giving a morning safety talk. And, you act like a manager when conducting a safety audit or root-cause analysis. You use different skills to be effective, as do employees.

  • Leadership development is the process of improving the ability of individuals and organizations to achieve better results. The two approaches to leadership development are 1) behavioralism, which focuses on current and desired future behaviors; and 2) gestaltism, which focuses on the patterns and mental maps needed for change. Much of what happens in training, coaching and one-on-one interventions is leadership development. Most organizations do not assess or develop their employees using assessments. However, the trend toward career paths, succession planning and leadership development requires sound data from assessments.
  • Validity means the extent to which an assessment tests what it claims to measure. For instance, you do not want to use a learning styles inventory to assess knowledge of OSHA standards.
  • Reliability is the extent to which the assessment delivers consistent results over time. For instance, you do not want to make hiring decisions based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which typically has different results more than 60% of the time.

These definitions are not to be confused.

Common Assessments

Following are commonly used assessments.

  1. DISC (dominance, inducement, submission and compliance) assesses what we do, our natural (private) and adapted (public) preferred behavioral styles.
  2. Personal Interests Attitudes and Values (PIAV) assesses why we do, based on interests, attitudes and values.
  3. Hogan predictively assesses personality based on both identity (what the leader thinks) and reputation (what others think are strengths and derailers).
  4. Any assessment customized by an industrial organizational psychologist for a specific job or skill, designed for a specific organization.

Selecting Assessments

The following resources may help one choose which assessment to use.

  1. In May 2014, American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) was renamed Association for Talent Development (ATD). The rebranding reflects a massive trend toward focusing on the strengths of individuals. Study ATD's buyer's guide for lists of products or services; study online forums, including LinkedIn. Then, seek referrals from colleagues at other similarly sized organizations to sort the best from the rest.
  2. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is filled with consultants and product vendors. Your internal human resources business partner may have a short list of assessments. Lean on human resources for referrals, but keep in mind that they tend to be cautionary, which can slow down the buying process.
  3. Vendors such as the Center for Creative Leadership, Brookings Institution, Office of Personnel Management, Strengths Finder and most universities.

Not all assessments are ideal; avoid the following:

  1. MBTI is one of the most commonly used assessments to determine 16 personality type preferences based on Carl Jung's descriptions. It has questionable validity, reliability and applicability.
  2. Any poorly constructed assessment that is likely to be invalid or unreliable. Anyone with Internet access can create an assessment in

10 minutes using a survey tool. I have seen some that include illegal questions with HIPAA violations. Typically, a company's legal department should review the assessment, or partner with an external consultant who has relevant experience.

Senior Leaders Deserve the Best

Foremen and supervisors have difficult jobs. But, senior leaders (using the previous definition) may impact thousands of people and billions of dollars in assets. The impact of a great promotion is profound, but the impact of a mediocre promotion can be devastating to an organization. The author favors the Hogan assessment suite because it has the highest predictive validity. Companies need to use a multirater, multimodal assessment process that combines the Hogan assessment with stakeholder interviews. After assessing your top 6 to 10 leaders, you can design coaching and consulting programs that maximize their strengths. Those data are invaluable for strategic planning.


What is the bottom line?

  1. Assessments are the first step in any leadership development initiative.
  2. Many off-the-shelf assessments will be adequate tools to measure employees.
  3. Customized assessments are invaluable tools for strategic planning and talent development.

Doug Gray, PCC, is a leadership coach who uses assessments carefully so that leaders can make smarter decisions. As a Ph.D. candidate, he reads many studies that can be applied to job sites. Reach him at (704) 995-6647 or


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